To say The Smashing Pumpkins performed at the Beacon Theatre Wednesday night would be a misnomer. As the band has reshuffled and frontman Billy Corgan has become a celebrity in his own right, accruing social media followers for his menagerie of rescue pets and making the tabloids for his son’s birth last year, Millennials and Gen-Xers have tucked the adored Smashing Pumpkins of the 90s away in the past with their CD collections. And that’s where they belong.
Dream-pop, garage-rock, black-punk. In an era where the blogosphere battles to name genres, sometimes it’s nice to simply return to rock ‘n’ roll, which is just what we have for you in the first Artist of the Month profile of the new year. “As cliche as that is, I think that’s what we’re going for. A fun rock and roll band,” said Penny, a newly-minted member of the Oklahoma rock group, who recently joined with her partner Mandy, adding a much appreciated feminine flavor. They do after all, have a sky-rocketing new album titled Just Enough Hip to be Woman.
BRONCHO performs at Beacon Theatre tonight supporting the one and only Billy Idol. Shortly before they hit the road, Sophie Saint Thomas caught up with Penny as she was getting ready to embark on a six-week tour.
ST: What is your experience with touring?
P: Honestly, I’ve loved it since I started doing it. I went on my first tour as a solo artist with another friend of mine who was also a solo artist at that time. I just love it, I love traveling. I love kind of having everything I need with me girl scout style. I see it as not much different than outdoor survival camping. I just kind of see it as the urban woods.
ST: Is this the first tour you guys as a group have done together?
P: No, Mandy and I just joined the band this last summer. We did our first tour with the guys I believe in August. It was like a five week run. We were basically touring from August to December with a few breaks and then we had December off, and now we’re at it again.
ST: How did you end up joining the band?
P: I’ve known Ryan for a few years now. I grew up in Norman, which is the town that they’re based in. Where they were hanging out and went to school. So I had hosted house shows at my house with them, and I’ve been to a lot of shows, just between musical mutual friends I guess. When I met Mandy we started playing music together. I heard that their old bass player was leaving the band. So I kind of pursued it a little bit, and six to eight months later I talked to Ryan, and he invited both of us to be in the band which is awesome because we live together and we’re partners. She’s kind of the only thing that keeps me from being on the road. So it’s really awesome to be able to bring her with me.
ST: How is it being with all those guys?
P: It’s good. The bands I previously was working with and touring with was much different. Musically, and also socially I played with two girls. And so I was mainly traveling with three girls which was a totally different experience. All three of us were around the 21-24 age so needless to say we were kind of crazy all over the place. I think the energy of this current group is like… I just feel like they’re my brothers. I have always been a tomboy so we just feel really comfortable.
ST: “Class Historian” is really blowing up and getting a lot of attention. How has that experience been?
P: I definitely feel lucky to be with them at this time. I’ve been watching these guys tour kind of parallel to my former musical life, and to be able to be in this band at this moment in time is pretty amazing. I do my best to not take too much credit for any of the actual success that’s going on right now. But it is super exciting. And I’m just constantly being flattered by people always hearing it on the XM Radio or wherever they’ve heard it. It’s kind of far out; We had a spot in the local paper recently, which was definitely the first time I’ve been called out like: “You’re that girl in that band!” It’s very weird, it’s very new, I’m trying not to get too used to it.
ST: I hope you’re enjoying it!
P: Definitely. I’m just trying to let it in and let it be real.
ST: I’m sure you and Mandy joining has changed the dynamic, can you speak to what you’ve brought to the band?
P: One obvious change is certainly the vocal presence. I think we’re moving to a really awesome place vocally where Mandy and I get to be sort of this more angelic presence over kind of the rougher vocals of the guys. It rounds it out really well. I was definitely worried at first about the former fans…I don’t know, it’s probably just girl insecurity. I never wanted people to be like, “Oh you’re good for a girl.” I think especially as the bass player like their former bass player, I respect him a lot. So the first show I was definitely watching a lot of people like, “You approve right?” I’m less about seeking approval now, and I’m just having a really good time with the guys. I’m no longer feeling like I don’t fit in anymore.
ST: I enjoy the female aspect; I love how it’s all come together. The album title Just Enough Hip to be Woman – were you part of the creation?
P: I honestly was not there but I totally can imagine how it came up, and it was probably the guys and some friends totally joking around and one of them probably said it in one way and another one said it in another way and then it went around in circles because it’s worded so strangely. I thought it was funny when I found out what it was because I didn’t even hear the new record or know the title until he had already asked me to be in the band. So part of me was like “Maybe he knew…” but I don’t think that he did. I think it’s just that perfect.
ST: How would you label your sound? I’ve read the term “garage punk” thrown around a lot on the internet.
P: Anytime we’re asked that at a border crossing, because they always ask “What band are you in?” and then “What kind of music do you play?” We all collectively answer with “rock and roll.” As cliche as that is, I think that’s what we’re going for. A fun rock and roll band. We’re all just having fun and ideally we just want everyone in the audience to be loose and crazy. I think “punk” is a bit of a stretch I think “garage rock and roll” is kind of where it’s at.
ST: Well, rock and roll is a cliche for a reason, it’s great. Are you excited to play with Billy Idol?
P: Yeah, I’m so stoked.
ST: Well congrats on everything that’s happening, and thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
P: Thank you!
As lights went down over a sold-out Beacon Theatre on Feb. 6th, Valerie June sauntered to center stage and assumed the mic without much flourish. The hall was big—and fancy! With seats! And you should have seen the bathrooms! And June looked like she would have just as soon played in a whiskey-sticky dive in the middle of nowhere. She might have felt that way, too: the Jackson-born June played gospel music at her church in Memphis as a kid, took her first job hanging posters around town for her music promoter father, and made her bones as a country-folk singer weathered by hard times and hard work. June’s sensibility expanded markedly with her signed debut, Pushing Against A Stone, which doesn’t channel gospel so much as ragged, rough-edged soul, spiny Appalachian traditional music, and a noisy rock and roll edge courtesy of the album’s co-writer and producer Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys).
And though Pushing Against A Stone was huge for June’s career, and she’s been busy with shows ever since it came out, she still stood in front of Thursday’s crowd like a green performer. She didn’t say a word to the audience. That wasn’t a bad thing in this performance: set against the glamour of the Beacon, her rumpled presentation was actually pretty refreshing. June began her set alone in front of the stage curtains, banjo at her feet and her band members’ stools behind her, unmanned for the moment. Dressed in a lightly patterned floor length dress, her head of dreads piled over her shoulders like Medusa’s snakes, June put her hands on her hips and began to sing “Goodnight Irene.”
She had a sore throat, but you’d never have known it. After her three-man band joined her on stage, the horsepower behind her vocals picked up, and June’s voice expanded to maintain focal status on stage. The songs were louder, weirder, and better than their studio versions. Sung live, the normally mournful “Somebody To Love” was devastating and a little pissed off. The songs were plaintive on Pushing Against A Stone, but carried the meanness and swagger of much louder songs when June performed them live.
“I love you, Valerie June!” a male voice called, while she was between songs. June cast up her eyes in the vague direction of the voice and paused, finally answering, sort of half-heartedly, “That’s more’n I can say for…the man who put the ring on my finger.” It was sort of a half-baked exchange.
“Uh, they don’t let me out much. Can’t take me anywhere. And I can’t be told, neither,” she continued, promptly launching into the last song of her slim set, “You Cant Be Told.” It made sense as a closer: it’s the heaviest, catchiest rock song in June’s arsenal, though the strange power of her voice in songs like “Workin’ Woman Blues” trumped any bass line. When the song was done, June stepped away from the mic, slung her purse over her shoulder, and stalked off the stage.
Though June and headlining act Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings had plenty in common—they’re both soulful, female-fronted groups with blues influences—Jones’ performance was spectacularly theatrical. Flanked by a large, swanky assembly of horns, strings and vocals, Jones danced all over the stage, bending down to touch her fans and exchanging warm shimmies with her band members. The night’s performance was a celebration: Sharon Jones fought cancer in 2013, causing the release of her new album Give The People What They Want to be pushed back to January of this year. She only recently started playing shows again, but Jones went hard. She appeared at the Beacon triumphantly bald in a glitzy gold dress, unabashedly vocal—and funny—about her struggle to get back to music. “I don’t want you to look at my feet,” Jones proclaimed, pointing down towards her shoes. She’d turned her insecurity on its head, rocking out wiglessly and pushing her endurance with a long, acrobatic set.
“Get up and dance!” Jones commanded. The entire house obliged and began to dance. The high-energy performance included a lot of new songs off Give The People, polished and boisterously strong. The set was long, and neither Jones nor the dancing audience showed any signs of slowing down. After about an hour and a half of the bluesy soul music—the brass, the dancing, the acrobatic vocals—I was exhausted. Sharon Jones was not. As I slipped out the back, the party raged on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones and her soul party were still whooping it up on the Beacon’s stage right now.